Russia passed a law that threatens prison time for anyone publishing what authorities consider to be false information about the country’s invasion of Ukraine, which the Kremlin refers to as a special military operation.
The law — a change to the country’s criminal code, which the lower chamber of Russia’s parliament approved on Friday — says anyone found guilty of knowingly disseminating false information and data about the use of Russia’s armed forces would be punished by a prison sentence of up to 15 years or a fine of up to 1.5 million rubles, equivalent to about $ 14,000. Reporting data on Russia’s military casualties not provided by the Russian Defense Ministry would also be considered a violation.
The move caused news organizations to weigh their options, including suspending operations in Russia, limiting use of their reporters’ bylines or adhering to the Kremlin’s description of its actions in Ukraine as a special military operation or peacekeeping mission.
CNN on Friday said it would stop broadcasting in Russia, while the British Broadcasting Corp. and Bloomberg News decided to suspend the work of their journalists inside the country.
Combined with Russian authorities’ decision Friday to block Meta Platforms Inc.’s
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in the country, the law marked an escalation in Russia’s efforts to prevent the flow of information that contradicts its narrative of the conflict in Ukraine and the role of Russia’s military in triggering a humanitarian crisis.
The Kremlin describes its actions as a “special military operation” aimed at protecting Russia’s security and that of Russian-speaking people in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region against the government in Kyiv.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Saturday that the law was justified.
It “was urgently needed in connection with the absolutely unprecedented information war that was unleashed against our country,” he said. “Against this background… it was necessary to adopt a tough law.”
Also on Saturday, Alexander Khinshtein, head of the State Duma’s information committee, told the state news agency RIA Novosti that the law would be expanded to include information disseminated about Russia’s National Guard and state military organization, and not just the country’s armed forces.
Vyacheslav Volodin, chairman of the State Duma — the lower chamber of Russia’s parliament — said that the law was designed to punish individuals and outlets that spread what he called fake news. He also accused US social-media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube of launching “an information war against Russia.” Twitter Inc.
declined to comment, and YouTube parent Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc.,
did not respond to a request for comment.
Russian authorities on Friday blocked Facebook in response to restrictions it said the social-media platform had placed on Russian media outlets including state news agency RIA Novosti, Sputnik, RT, television channel Zvezda, Lenta.ru and Gazeta.ru.
“Soon millions of ordinary Russians will find themselves cut off from reliable information,” Nick Clegg, president of global affairs at Meta, said. “We will continue to do everything we can to restore our services so they remain available to people to safely and securely express themselves and organize for action.”
As a result of the law’s passage, the BBC said it would temporarily suspend the work of all its journalists in Russia.
“This legislation appears to criminalize the process of independent journalism,” BBC Director-General Tim Davie said Friday. “The safety of our staff is paramount and we are not prepared to expose them to the risk of criminal prosecution simply for doing their jobs.” The BBC News service in Russian will continue to operate from outside Russia, the BBC said.
Bloomberg News also said it would temporarily suspend the work of its journalists inside Russia. “The change to the criminal code, which seems designed to turn any independent reporter into a criminal purely by association, makes it impossible to continue any semblance of normal journalism within the country,” John Micklethwait, editor in chief, wrote in a note to staff.
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CNN, meanwhile, “will stop broadcasting in Russia while we continue to evaluate the situation and our next steps moving forward,” a spokesman for the network said. A spokeswoman for CBS News said the network was not “broadcasting from Russia as we monitor the circumstances for our team on the ground given the new media laws” passed Friday.
It was not immediately clear how the new law would be enforced, and news organizations were still working to process its implications.
“Our top priorities are the safety of our employees and covering this important story fairly and fully,” said a spokesman from Dow Jones & Co., which publishes The Wall Street Journal. “Being in Moscow, freely able to talk to officials and capture the mood, is key to that mission.” The company declined to provide specific details regarding plans for employees in the region.
A Washington Post spokeswoman said the news publisher intended “to exercise caution while seeking clarity on how these reported restrictions would affect Washington Post correspondents and local staff.”
Last week, Russia’s communications regulator ordered the removal of reports from the media that describe Moscow’s attack on Ukraine as an “assault, invasion or declaration of war,” or face being fined or blocked.
Russia’s Novaya Gazeta newspaper, whose editor, Dmitry Muratov, was a co-winner of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize, on Friday said it would remove material from its website in which hostilities in Ukraine are described as war, aggression or invasion. The newspaper, known for its critical and investigative coverage of Russian political and social affairs, wrote that it was forced to make the decision.
Earlier Friday, members of the State Duma adopted amendments to the country’s criminal code, which would “increase the liability for spreading fake [news] about the actions of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, as well as for public calls for the imposition of sanctions against Russia, ”according to information about the amendments to the law published on the government’s website.
If the law is violated by an individual in an official capacity, “for reasons of political, ideological, racial, national or religious hatred or enmity, or for reasons of hatred or enmity against any social group, then imprisonment can be up to 10 years , ”The law says.
If the violation causes serious consequences, the perpetrator of the offense will be “punished by imprisonment for a term of 10 to 15 years,” the law says.
The Federation Council, the parliament’s upper chamber, and President Vladimir Putin both approved the law. The final step is for it to be published, which could come as soon as Saturday.